Saturday, 24 February 2018

Perspective #3: Fundamentalism Is Dead

For one moment, let us again think of why the study of spiritual philosophy - which some say is the real study of man - is essential. And to help to remind us of the issues, Albert Einstein described the prevailing condition in society in 1954:
When considering the actual living conditions of present-day civilized humanity from the standpoint of even the most elementary religious commands, one is bound to experience a feeling of deep and painful disappointment at what one sees. For while religion prescribes brotherly love in the relations among the individuals and groups, the actual spectacle more resembles a battlefield than an orchestra. Everywhere, in economic as well as in political life, the guiding principle is one of ruthless striving for success at the expense of one’s fellow men. This competitive spirit prevails even in school and, destroying all feelings of human fraternity and cooperation, conceives of achievement not as derived from the love for productive and thoughtful work, but as springing from personal ambition and fear of rejection.
In my view, he could have said the same thing in 2018 and it would have equal validity though perhaps the problem has been exacerbated by misguided direction from governments, and by both unfairness and greed. For some years we have been seeing the worst of selfish excesses and a solution is probably now more important than ever as climate change and other conditions worsen.

Einstein went on to say: "There are pessimists who hold that such a state of affairs is necessarily inherent in human nature". He continued: "it is those who propound such views that are the enemies of true religion, for they imply thereby that religious teachings are utopian ideals and unsuited to afford guidance in human affairs."

To illustrate his point Einstein then referred to the philosophy of the Pueblo Indians. "Under the hardest living conditions, this tribe has apparently accomplished the difficult task of delivering its people from the scourge of competitive spirit and of fostering in it a temperate, cooperative conduct of life, free of external pressure and without any curtailment of happiness." Studies done of the Hopi Indians have identified similar traits and the Maya have a very deep wisdom.

But of course western life is no longer as simple. But to think western life is civilised in view of the events of the last two decades would surely be wide of the mark. Conditions are such that a number of wisdom sources have firmly suggested for some time that we should rethink how we live and identify what is sustainable. There are more people 'out there' doing that very thing; more people than we might imagine as all we see and hear about is bad news: good news (until now) does not sell well! But all may well change very soon, as we know that crisis usually brings out the best in people.

The underlying formula of a successful and harmonious society starts with the individual, for an individual on the right track then influences the family and then the community and then the entire world. That is the ideal, of unity leading to peace and happiness. And the medium is via Love, implanted during the nurturing period in the family and then at school. The problem today is that parents often ignore the need for practical spirituality, pander to peer pressure and demand (or are led to believe in) an educational system specifically geared to providing their children with the best means to what is called "a good living" - along materialistic and competitive lines, as Einstein pointed out. That system all too frequently leads to broken families and fragmented societies. And a world at conflict. The educational system has surely lacked a sense of values.

People might object that religion is equally to blame, but we do need to reflect on what a true religion is supposed to achieve. Einstein referred to "true religion", which I call the Essential Teachings, as discussed in Perspectives 1 and 2: those teachings that promote a system of Human Values based on Universal Love towards our fellow man and towards the environment. This is a key issue. Einstein said of himself: "I try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value".

How would a system of Human Values be transmitted? Oscar Wilde said: "Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught." But "education" these days is not much more than a data collection exercise. In ancient times, and even in the presence of a guru or sheikh, it was not and is not like that.

While technical, academic or professional education is all very good to acquire a good living, it is the experiential life that is the true teacher. The acquisition of that form of learning is often best achieved by taking some considered risks with one's life: at least to question what is happening around us. However, to do so is riskier if the objective is not a pure one or if harm is done on the way. In fact, challenges unexpectedly arise often in the ordinary course of life and they present the best opportunities to learn: but to learn from such situations requires them to be met head-on. To be successful, the individual should not wilt in a disaster or simply claim 'foul' or blame others. As Kipling wrote (in 'If'):
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
So, we have come around again to the individual and the issue of "Who am I?" Am I a body, which is perishable, or is there an essence that I am supposed to know and actively evolve into a higher state? For me, the latter answer must be true. For if it were the body that defines who we are then we only have death to look forward to. That idea does not make sense to me; if it were the Truth then for what purpose did great teachers such as the Buddha and Jesus experience such great sacrifice and suffering? Not only they but many others too, many of whom are not recorded. Surely a good evolution of man can take place only if we attempt to transcend our earthly condition?

There must be many who feel that there is something more than the body but cannot express their ideas about it, or (not finding an answer in ordinary religion) simply try to put it aside and conform to what society views as normal. That happened to me, as when I was just entering teenage life I had the question rise up as to what it was that looked through my eyes to see and comprehend. I asked questions of my parents, but they could not answer, and I could not seem to identify any other way by which that question could be answered. It took me another 20 years of just living my life, in the way that others did, to come again to that question. The question was brought on again by a critical personal issue and a strange occurrence as part of that issue. That experience then set me off on a search, at the age of 30, and within two years I gave up a lucrative career to go away and find answers.

Answers to problems of any kind do not always come easily, and though my awareness developed as time went by, I was conscious of how easy it was to be ensnared into some railway siding (as it were) when in fact the path is long and narrow - as the scriptures say. But despite trying to be 'of service' I did sometimes get 'ensnared' and I did not come very close to an answer to my original question until I was in my sixties. I did not stop learning at that point either. I still haven't. But I feel more at peace and have a sense of a spiritual direction that I am happy with. I now envisage a Unity in Diversity.

My overall understanding can be summed up in the phrase: “Truth is one; sages call it by various names”. This is a statement in the Hindu scriptures, the Rig Veda. I can now (only recently) also reconcile to the statement made by Ghandiji that:
Only that one is a true worshipper of God, who is not jealous, who is generous to everyone and without any egoism.
Who can bear heat and cold, happiness and harm equally, who always forgives, is constantly satisfied, whose decisions are firm and whose mind and soul is surrendered to God.
Who does not cause any evil, who is not afraid of others, and who is as free of excitement as of worries and fears, who is pure, efficient at work but yet not touched by it, who gives up all the fruits of his acting, the good ones as well as the bad ones, who treats friends and enemies in the same way, who stays untouched by respect or lack of respect, who is not pampered by praise but also not depressed if people talk badly of him.
Who likes the silence and the loneliness and who has a disciplined mind.
The yogi is the one in whom all these capabilities are reflected in his life and who in the midst of a furious storm still sees the sun, who faces the difficulties and the death, who with a balanced quiet mind walks over a battlefield or goes to the executioners, and whose spirit is so joyful that even thunder puts him to sleep.
Whoever has attained Ghandiji's vision, on any spiritual path, must surely be at peace. I believe that vision is the culmination of the ancient path taught by sages thousands of years ago and demonstrated and thus ratified by the Budhha and (probably more significantly) by Jesus. I see the message of Muhammed as putting the same ideal within a social context, but fundamentalism threatens the integrity of Islam as well as Christianity.

Fundamentalism is dead. Long live Life! With help always but invisibly at hand, action of a certain kind is required; there are no shortcuts. The spiritual path is not just a self-obsessed issue with the only beneficiary being the seeker. The Love of a truly enlightened one always benefits all that is around him (or her).   The message from all spiritual quarters is to seek the Light and make it shine. Although this is not specifically a Christian view I will quote Jesus as he is made to state in the Bible, at Matthew 5:16:
You are like light for the world;
Your light must shine before people
so they will see your good things you do
and give praise to your Father in heaven.
Perspective #4 will look more at the topic of Karma and other aspects of the Soul..

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Perspective #2: I Was A Hidden Treasure

In Perspective #1, both the Bible and Albert Einstein present a picture of Unity, that all Creation is One. And, as a collorary to that, there is the Islamic tradition that God (as Allah) said:
I was a hidden treasure and wanted to be known.
This statement is referred to by Sufis and the Bahai faith, but there are Islamic commentators who question the authenticity of this statement. There are, however, others who say it is substantiated by a verse in the Qur'an (51:56) - a generally accepted revelation from Allah:
I created the Jinn and humankind only that they may worship Me!
Accordingly, since all human beings were created in His image (as self-aware consciousnesses evolved in a physical body), all human beings are also hidden treasures to each other. And all have this deep desire to be known. And to know One-ness.

If we were to accept that we are all (in reality) "self-aware consciousnesses [created by God]", does this not indicate that we are all linked in a mysterious, spiritual, way as brothers and sisters; that we are all, in reality, one whole? That when Jesus spoke of "loving thy neighbour" he was referring to that mysterious and spiritual link connecting us all - that we are all the same - inwardly, in essence. That it is our outward upbringing and acts that differentiate us, not our inward (and essential) reality. They say that "what goes around comes around", which infers that some action done has a potential rebound. That can include harm done to another.

The key question is, "should not we be making greater effort to realise our innate state and seek to find One-ness in order to try to put right the various serious ailments in the world today?"

And if we - regardless of the religion we are born into - are all One and relate to One God, why do certain religions (sects of Christianity and Islam in particular) seek to convert others to their form of religion? Why do members of these religions seem to think that other paths are inferior? Why, indeed, do members of these religions seem to think that their path is superior?

A number of people say that Jesus came and to save us. It is the ultimate truth for those who wish to believe that. Yes, in one sense, Jesus did have a saving message, but has that message been accurately interpreted? The usual interpretation may be because of there being a lack of a message 
in the Christian Canon (compared to other spiritual paths) about self-work, although those who were willing to be isolated in cloisters took that route in former eras. But, of course, the Canon was an eclectic compilation put together some 300 years after the passing of Jesus. The discovery of the so-called 'Nag Hammadi Library' and other discoveries throw rather a different light on what the Church has been saying since the time of Constantine. However, St. Augustine wrote:
That which is called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist, from the beginnings of the human race until Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed, began to be called Christianity.
In my humble view, Jesus came as a living proof of the ability of all people to rise to a station of gnosis, Jesus even showed us in vivid detail that to arrive at that exalted state trials and pain have to be overcome. St. Augustine's statement seems to prove that the foundations for gnosis were being put in place before he (Jesus) came to us, but that Jesus's life created the conditions for everyone to attain gnosis, and not just a few, as there had been before. Hence the need for Jesus to openly illustrate the Way needed: not just to a fortunate select few, although his disciples must have been told more. 

But one of the greatest mysteries is that concerning Islam. For if Jesus was the 'proof' of The Way, what was the function of Prophet Muhammed, who came 600 years later? And it is noteworthy that all the prophets of the Abrahamic tradition - including Jesus - are accepted by the Qur'an. In fact, Jesus is as exulted in the mystical elements of Islam as much if not more than so-called Christianity! Even in the exoteric Islamic forms of the Sunnis, Jesus is hugely respected. It's the form that Christianity frequently takes and its wish to absorb all others that causes a massive obstacle towards understanding between the two ways. In fairness, that view applies also to the Sunni notion that as Prophet Muhammed is stated as being the last prophet, then the Islamic teachings (as the Sunnis understand it) should be taken as superior to all Christian teachings.

But what's perhaps even more interesting is that a number of the greatest men of Western literature - including George Bernard Shaw - were very attracted by the ways of the Islamic faith, and particularly by the character of the Prophet Muhammed. They saw him as the epitome of a wise and great leader of people and man of peace. For me, Islam (as Prophet Muhammed taught it, and as taught by the Sufis and other esoteric groups, please note) represents the kind of practical framework that most people would need to work within to attain the mystery that Jesus gave to the world. A similar framework exists in the Hindu teachings and which was established thousands of years before Judaism and Islam.

I see the same essential message in the core of all religions, whether it be Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian or Bahai. That is, the inference that we are not really the body; that there is an essence within that requires our primary attention.  But some religions speak in more detail on this topic. Here is just one relevant statement in the Chandogya Upanishad of the Hindu scriptures:
When in the body (by thinking this body is I and I am this body) the Self is held by pleasure and pain. So long as he is in the body, he cannot get free from pleasure and pain. But when he is free of the body (when he knows himself different from the body), then neither pleasure nor pain touches him'.
This quotation, by implication, rejects the notion that we can be saved from our spiritual plight by simply belief. It also implies that religious ritual does not, in itself, have great relevance. There is the suggestion that to be born into a religious practice should be considered beneficial (that it lays a foundation) but that it is undesirable to leave it at that. To achieve anything worthwhile, work is required: spiritual work. That work (if approached with a pure heart) is a kind of work that leads to permanent joy for the reason that all teachings (in their original form at least) taught that the soul lives on; it does not die. What the soul moves onto depends on what we have done during the Earth-bound opportunity.

The kind of work that is called for by what I call the Essential Teachings are directed to the individual, for it is only when the individual attains a certain level that he can be of real benefit to society - his "neighbours" - by progressively working on ego and giving service out of Love, obtaining joy therefrom. 

Interestingly, Oscar Wilde, in The Soul Of Man (1891), stated:
For it is through joy that the Individualism of the future will develop itself.  Christ made no attempt to reconstruct society, and consequently the Individualism that he preached to man could be realised only through pain or in solitude. ... The evolution of man is slow.  The injustice of men is great.  It was necessary that pain should be put forward as a mode of self-realisation.  
But what is the way forward from that "pain" or suffering that is talked of here? How do we obtain "joy"? We come back to the subject of Love. In  the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul states:
If I speak the languages of men and angels, but have no love, I am like a resounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have no love, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have no love, it earns me nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love has no envy; love is not puffed up; love has no pride. It does not behave itself unseemly, it takes no thought for itself; It is not made angry, It thinks no evil. It takes no pleasure in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, has unshakable faith, hopes fully, endures all things. Love never fails.
It would, therefore, appear to be the case that self-work was always top of the agenda as the real path, The Way to success in religion is the "know thyself" process to find "the hidden treasure". In Islamic and Hindu teachings about "self-work" there is little pressure on the need to live out of society to undertake that task, though some traditionalists still cling to that approach. However, to achieve anything of spiritual substance, the individual must loosen his worldly ties; his attachments.

It should follow, therefore, that by focusing on The Way, Love will prevail. Wars and other severely detrimental aspects that exist in the world now - and which include increasing mental issues that have evolved in modern society - would ultimately fade away once mankind was to see their real selves and the futility of choosing ego over Unity. 

You may say this is idealistic talk or that it is just an opinion. But what else makes real sense?

Perspective #3 will talk more about the Soul.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Perspective #1: The State Of Things

Most of us here in the UK and the rest of the western world sit reasonably comfortably in our homes thinking of their immediate family and wanting the best for them. But because of that (admittedly) time-consuming occupation, we tend to watch what is happening in the world with some indifference, though we might sometimes be appalled by suffering - particularly through drought and war.

But I feel it is time to express some harsh truths.

Our attention all too often becomes more concerned about whether we can afford a holiday, a new car or build that extension to the house. Or if not worrying about expenditure on that scale,  being overly concerned that our children are supplied with all the things that they believe they are supposed to have by some divine right.

Not all people fit into that description, but a good many do. But even in the west there are quite a number who are genuine 'have nots', and live day-to-day simply trying to make ends meet. And youngsters on that end of the economic spectrum tend to get drawn more into gangs, drugs and crime. More understanding governments try to stem that tendency by funding the provision of better social services, but then other governments decide we can't afford that and withdraw the funding, leaving the deprivation to look after itself. Or claim that the economy will pick up and will pay for these "extras". Meanwhile the rich get immeasurably richer and the poor stay poor.

No, I'm not jealous. I just believe that by living the way we do we are funding even more evil by letting the wealthy do what they do, often by funding drug companies to develop products that are often harmful to us. Meanwhile, they tell us that homoeopathy and Ayurveda and Chinese medicine is all hocus-pocus. Are they?

For those who are in a happier material situation and who do not already reflect and think about themselves in relation to society and the greater world of true reality, I suggest it is time to start getting real about ourselves and to try to take a broader view of our existence, and thus influence the direction which we are taking. Climate change, wars, hunger and pollution seem to be increasing: perhaps we are feeding this situation by the way we live and by letting our leaders take us in a direction we don't really need?

And there's another reason. The way of life that many of us live is just not what was intended. And if we knew what it is that is really intended then I am sure we would tackle life differently.

I will come back onto that theme, but for the time being it is probably sufficient to emphasise that ourselves and our immediate families are not the be-all-and-end-all of everything. All humans breathe, feel and love (and hate), and therefore it is not difficult to understand the thinking of other peoples, even though they may live much more simply than ourselves.

The great messenger we call Jesus told us that there are two laws we should heed. One is to love the Lord our God; the second to love our neighbour as ourselves. I believe our "neighbour" is each and everyone across the planet Earth. I believe we need to reconcile ourselves to all peoples and also the Earth itself, and all other lifeforms.

Thus, in Genesis 1:26 English Standard Version (ESV), it says:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
But this is not just Christian teaching. This theme pervades all spiritual teachings.

And, as Albert Einstein once said:
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Perspective #6: The Curious Computer

In relation to the topic of the preceding Perspective here's a charming story, attributed to Hugh Brecher, an American psychotherapist:...